Playing CCGs Showed Me Something Dark About Myself

Collectible card games (CCGs) often sell themselves as the fantasy of playing as the master tactician. As the player, you can outsmart your opponent and create unbelievable combos through meticulous planning and tactical smarts. I always wanted to think of myself as a tactical person who could divine the secrets of these games.

Unfortunately, my desire to understand CCGs has devolved into a dark passenger. On my journey to master the game, I found myself becoming more focused on crushing opponents rather than trying to outwit them. I’m not sure I like the person what card games make me.

Innocent Beginnings

I played Magic the Gathering (MTG) for a short time with friends in college. I always wanted to be halfway proficient at card games but never had the money to build my deck or the time to watch YouTube strategy videos.

That changed when I picked up Hearthstone two years ago. The Warcraft aesthetic and easy-to-learn mechanics spoke to me. It started innocently enough; I played the single-player adventures and learned the basics. I created a few zero dust decks and dutifully completed my daily quests. I even started watching videos and learning the metagame.

Then I started trying to play the ranked ladder. That is when my dark side took hold.

That Cursed Ladder

Playing ranked games as a CCG beginner is not a fun experience. On the Hearthstone ranked ladder, you can progress to a certain starter rank without the fear of sliding into previous levels. However, once you get past that point, any loss will subtract from your progress. The higher you get your rank, the better the reward you will receive at the end of the season. These rewards will then allow you to create cards that are even more effective.

In addition to this high-stress atmosphere, your opponents on the ladder are also playing the most effective decks in the game that have been theory-crafted by some of the most devoted players. These decks aren’t cheap, and the only way to get your desired cards is to buy packs or craft them with resources gained from destroying other cards. This lack of cards incentivizes new players to purchase random packs with real-world money

The Original Loot Box

Buying packs with real money in Hearthstone costs $2.99 without any discounts. The prices go down the more packs you purchase, with $69.99 buying you 60 packs. There are limited-time bundle, but they often cap out at $80 for 100 packs. To add insult to injury, a player may be forced to open 40 packs until the pity timer triggers to receive one of the more powerful legendary cards.

As a beginner, I didn’t have the resources to create high-powered cards and did not want to spend real money on the game. I also couldn’t quickly grind resources because my decks weren’t as effective as my opponent’s expensive cards.

Crushing Your Opponent Is More Fun Than Winning

I felt lost until I found my first aggro (aggressive) deck. Aggro Warrior was my companion during these dark times. Aggro decks use the strategy of overwhelming the opponent before they can create a strong defense. These decks have minimum tools for removing cards that your opponent plays and no backup plan if you get a bad hand. It is a reckless deck that can get quick results but can also fall apart quickly.

This aggro deck showed me the fun in crushing my opponent. I delighted in seeing them quit on turn three. I lost as many games as I won, but it didn’t matter. Watching my opponent squirm was more fun than getting a higher rank. I could even start to predict when my opponents would quit — it was intoxicating.

I didn’t troll anyone, but I wasn’t playing as a tactician anymore. I took glee in my opponent’s misery. It wasn’t enough to win, it was about leaving them with no options beyond a quick death.

What Do We Owe To Each Other?

Do players have a responsibility to not use decks with cheap and overwhelming mechanics? 

Is it wrong to delight in the utter destruction of other players? I don’t think I was being a jerk, but does this kind of aggressive play ruin the game for others?

Some CCG experts would argue that decks like Evolve Shaman are ruining Hearthstone. Evolve Shaman is a deck archetype that involves flooding the game board with numerous cheap minions. The deck straddles the line between aggro and combo. Once the player has a nearly full board, they can play the Shaman card Evolve, which transforms the cheap minions into more expensive ones. Normally, the random nature of the Evovle card is a huge drawback, but when it is used in conjunction with cards like Desert Hare it can overwhelm the opponent before they can mount a defense.

I won’t disagree with the experts who concluded that Evolve Shaman is a plague upon the game. I played Evolve Shaman for a while and had to put it away because I got bored. The fun of destroying my opponent was ruined when they would concede the match upon seeing that I was playing Shaman.

New Meta, New Me

Recently, I started playing Control Warrior. Control decks specialize in controlling the state of the board and removing your opponents cards before they can hurt you. These types of decks are often some of the most expensive in the game because they require you to have certain rare cards that have outlandish effects. For example, my Control Warrior deck uses eight legendary cards. To get the resources to make those eight cards (without opening additional packs), you would need to destroy 320 of the most basic cards.

Control Warrior is a more reliable deck that can hold off these aggressive decks with tools that clear the board and set the pace of the game. These games are slower; a game involving two control decks can take upwards of 20 minutes. That’s a far cry from the 2-3 minute games involved in playing an aggro deck. Additionally, the game is often not decided until the last few turns and even then certain cards, like Archivist Elysiana, can reset the entire deck.

Saying Goodbye To The Darkness

It’s fun to make decisions that actually impact play and not pray for the perfect hand at the start of the game. Games that I play with Control Warrior can go hundreds of different ways and actually fulfill that fantasy of playing a tactician. It’s thrilling to take control and lull the opponent into a false sense of security. 

I’m not here to say that playing cheap aggro decks makes anyone a bad person. Aggressively, overwhelming an opponent is just as valid as stringing them along with a control deck. Additionally, being able to grind resources quickly is a response to these games’ parasitic monetization strategy.

It’s up to the developers to balance their games and not let any strategy rule the metagame. Evolve Shaman should be going away with the release of the new set in just a few days. Although a few of the cards, like Frizz Kindleroost, look to create more aggressive decks. 

Moving forward, I’m steering clear of these aggro decks. A person can only get so much joy out of watching their opponent quit on turn five.

Featured image art by Luca Zontini, courtesy of Activision-Blizzard.